Not a “Latino Issue” this is about America

Just a few days ago, while in San Francisco attending the Hispanics in Philanthropy conference, my conversation with Karla Vasquez from United We Dream in Tennessee was interrupted by frantic messages on her phone. A meat processing factory had been raided by ICE and 97 line workers had been detained in what civil rights organizations called the largest single workplace raid in a decade.

Karla was being called to help out, to help connect with families, to help provide referrals to social services, legal representation, to be a voice for those too scared or too hurt to talk.

The next day, 530 children stayed home from the school. Some were missing parents, “other families are afraid that if their kids go to school and they go to work, that maybe they won’t see each other again” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Refugee & Immigrant Rights Coalition when interviewed by CNN.

In the following days, more than 100 local educators gathered at a church in Tennessee for a workshop on how to help students through the crisis. There were discussions about what to say, whom to call, what to do. And while many organizations in Tennesee worked (and continue to work) around the clock to provide to the best of their abilities services, connections and referrals, the truth is that families need so much more than a referral or help with Food Stamps enrollment- which in many cases they don’t qualify for.

Families and especially children need counseling, housing assistance, they need to know their rights, spouses, and parents need powers of attorney to designate guardianship for their children, families need legal representation and opportunities to able to feed themselves, wage-earners need jobs, students need free meals at schools and a safe space, mothers need childcare so they can go to work and yes, nonprofit leaders and advocates need resources, and the trust of the funding community to deliver those services to the families that need it most.

What happened in Tennessee is unfortunately not unique. Every day in Georgia, dozens of individuals are detained by ICE as early as 5:00 am in the parking lot of their apartment complexes as immigrants leave their families to go to work; building, painting, maintaining the very structures cities and counties are proud to display in postcards, websites, and materials. Georgia, #1 for business yet 44 in economic well-being (2017 Kids Count, The Annie E. Casey Foundation).

And so the big elephant in the room is a question about capacity and if we (Latinx-serving organizations) are ready to address the needs our community have.

Do we have capacity in our organizations and local governments to respond this new reality or simply put, a man-made disaster affecting mostly children, their well being, and well as their educational and social development?

In Georgia, the answer is no. In general, legal providers are not meeting the demand, period. Pro Bono legal providers are even more scarce, let alone Spanish speaking legal providers. Many of the large nonprofit organizations do not even engage in detention or deportation work, simply because the odds of being successful are extremely low and let’s be honest. The numbers would not look great to funders.

But what about providers of social services? No again.

The majority of have been historically underfunded. In fact, most of our organizations rely on volunteers and special events to turn the lights on. When there is a crisis, we all stop what we are doing and redirect focus to the task-at-hand (think DACA termination) and it is not because we are not focused, it is because it affects us all and there is nobody else to do it.

Georgia is the state with the fastest growing Latinx population. More than one-third of Georgia children are Latino. 71% of children with a deported parent stay in the US ( 2010 Sapelo Foundation White Paper “Immigration Enforcement and its impact on Latino Children). As fear and lack of trust grow in the Latinx community in Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, the question that keeps me up at night is:

How can we strengthen the ecosystem of culturally competent service provides that can work in partnership with this growing community of families and children to move forward the state?

When 87% of all Latinx children in Georgia under 18 are American citizens and 41% of those children live in poverty (Pew Hispanic Center), this is not a “Latino issue” this is not a “niche” community. This is a case for investment in America’s present and future.

In spite of the very little funding available for our community in the state (and the Southeast in general), especially to grassroots and Latinx-led organizations; lately, I have been feeling hopeful. This is why:

The National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) launched “Bearing Fruit”, the fourth report in our As the South Grows series; highlighting opportunities for investment, power building and sustainable growth and development of communities of color and immigrants.

The Tahirih Justice Center, opened its offices in Atlanta, offering policy advocacy, training and education and critically needed Pro-bono legal representation to women and girls fleeing violence (yes, 70% of their clientele is Latina)

KIND, providing Pro-bono legal representation to unaccompanied minors in Metro Atlanta is growing and expanding services to the many children they serve

Asian Americans for Advancing Justice has launched a Deportation Defense Fund, providing much needed one-time grants to low-income immigrant individuals and their families facing criminal or immigration court proceedings.

And we, the Latino Community Fund (LCF Georgia) are engaging in an asset mapping project to help visualize the ecosystem of culturally competent organizations serving our community in the state. The map will help families find help close to where they are, will provide service providers with referrals for a wide range of services and will provide funders with a bird-eye view on “who does what and where” so they can identify the gaps in services, and partners per strategic priority or geographic area.

There is plenty of work to do in the state and we are in the business of making Georgia a stronger, wealthier and healthier for ALL. Hope you join us, because we are in it, together.

Published by

Gilda (Gigi) Pedraza

Executive Director and Founder Latino Community Fund (LCF Georgia) Social Entrepreneur, Community Advocate, Latina, Mom, Wife. Lover of Life.

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